As you already know, I've got a pretty vast collection of Walter T. Foster art-instruction books. The first was one of those pernicious nostalgia purchases: I learned how to draw horses when I was a kid with the aid of a Walter T. Foster book so naturally when I saw the same book at an estate sale, I pounced. That was a few years ago, before I knew that the generation of middle-class suburbanites whose estates are currently up for grabs here in San Antonio were a bunch of devoted amateur artists who looked to Walter T. Foster's big floppy instruction manuals for direction. Now when I see them, which is frequently, I can't resist buying them. Luckily, they're very skinny, so they don't take up too much room.
I'd say about half of the books in my collection have bylines apart from Foster's signature/brand and almost all of them seem to be men (e.g., Fritz Willis, pin-up girl artist extraordinaire, and Leon Franks, master portraitist of sad clowns) or else their names are gender-neutral initials. So my curiosity was piqued when I saw the marquee byline one Violet Parkhurst merited for manual #101, Painting Sunsets.
Sunset paintings are not especially my thing, but I have to share some nuggets from Violet's CV: Born in Vermont in 1921 and educated in Boston and Waco, she indulged a passion for travel, tooling around Canada and Mexico before landing in Natal, Brazil, where she was a foreign correspondent for movie magazines (here you can see photos of her with Clark Gable, Maureen O'Hara and more). A total dame! She gave up writing for her first love, painting, because, according to the Walter T. Foster bio, "From her French mother, she inherited a temperament which could best be expressed by oils and brushes." Hmmm... insert Bob Hope tomcat yowl here?
Parkhurst ultimately put down roots in Cali; first Malibu and then San Pedro, where she cruised on her 35-foot boat The Hustler (sunset cruises, mostly, I'm guessing). She died in 2008, but in L.A., Violet Parkhurst day is celebrated on November 3.
The Walter T. Foster bio presents her as some crazy feminist trailblazer—and hell, maybe she was:
This internationally known and acclaimed woman artist is no mild illustrator, nor does she dabble in prosaic landscapes. Instead, she specializes in three areas where most women painters have rarely ventured, certainly not with the force, action and vibrancy that she brings to her work. She paints seascapes, life-like studies of the bubbling, foam-flinging seas of the world which thunder on the shores in their wild rush for the beach... She paints both the male and the female nude, displaying unashamedly their God-given charms and attributes. Horses, cats and all animals are an invitation to capture their innocent charms on canvas... For her successful invasion of these customarily male domains...Violet Parkhurst has won scholarships, trophies over thirty blue ribbons, accolades, critical acclaims and an international reputation.
Methinks someone deserves at least 30 blue ribbons for that purple prose.
Anyway, stumbling across this little-known feminist heroine reminds me of an assignment I did for an 18th-century literature class in college, in which the professor had us dig deep in the stacks at Butler Library to locate and write about an obscure work by an obscure female poet of the time. Superfun stuff—shining a light, however small, on these forgotten, overlooked rule-breakers. So if Violet indeed broke down barriers for future chick painters, then my beret's off to her! I will raise a glass in her honor at the next technicolor sunset.